Bush Wins Decisive Victory in South Carolina

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - George W Bush leaves South Carolina with renewed energy following his decisive win in that state's primary, while his rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Arizona Senator John McCain, said he would not take "the low road to the highest office in the land."

With 99 percent of the precincts reporting by Sunday morning, Bush outpolled McCain 53-42 percent (301,050 votes for Bush; 237,888 votes for McCain). Republican Alan Keyes received 5 percent, or 25,510 votes.

"I want the presidency in the best way, not the worst way," McCain told his supporters Saturday night. "You don't have to win every skirmish to win a war."

Bush praised McCain for the "tough competition" and said he was "relieved, excited and humbled" by his decisive win.

Despite a record voter turnout, McCain did not benefit as much as his supporters hoped he would. According to a CNN exit poll, Bush and McCain split the support of South Carolina veterans. Bush retained the support of staunch Republicans, and he received significantly more votes from women.

The CNN exit survey showed that voters considered moral values the top issue, while campaign finance reform, a subject close to McCain's heart, was viewed as much less important.

The McCain campaign accuses Bush of winning South Carolina though a barrage of negative advertising and campaigning. Arriving in Grand Rapids, Michigan early Sunday morning, Bush indicated his tough new approach will continue: "I'm going to go full blast in the next 48 hours," Bush told a group of supporters who turned out to welcome him.

"In two days, I'm convinced, we have a chance to continue what was started tonight in South Carolina, and that's the beginning of the end of the Clinton-Gore era in Washington D.C," Bush said.

The CNN exit survey showed that McCain polled strongly with independents and Democrats. Those two groups made up only 39 percent of the total South Carolina vote. They could play a bigger role in Michigan, which is more diverse politically and culturally than South Carolina. Once again, turnout is expected to be critical for McCain.

The Michigan primary is open to all of the state's 6.7 million registered voters, and recent polls suggest the outcome is too close to call. A Detroit News poll released Saturday showed Bush and McCain in a virtual dead heat.

The survey of 600 "very likely" Michigan primary voters showed McCain with 40 percent support compared with 38 percent for Bush, but the results fell within the poll's margin of error.

Political analysts agreed that Bush needed Saturday's win to slow the momentum McCain developed after his bigger-than-expected margin of victory in the New Hampshire primary.

If Bush wins in Michigan, some expect McCain's challenge to fade.

A Michigan victory would put Bush on track to wrap up the Republican presidential nomination on Super Tuesday, March 7, when California, New York, Ohio and a dozen other states hold primaries. McCain has said he would stay in the race at least until March 7.

Bush won 34 of South Carolina's 37 delegates Saturday. He now has 61 of the 1,034 delegates he needs to win the Republican presidential nomination.

With the three delegates he won in South Carolina Saturday, McCain now has a total of 14 delegates going into Tuesday's Michigan and Arizona primaries.